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Growth Toward the Edge of Uncertainty: Exploring Jane Woodworth’s World of Art

Forest resident Jane Woodworth proudly defines her life as a medley of art and travel. She has been drawing and painting since she was a child living in her hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. In the mid-1940s, when she was about 11 years old, Jane saw an exotic National Geographic photo of Italian umbrella pines. This photo stayed with her for many years to come and provided much inspiration for her artwork.

Years later, Jane – who loves art, people, dancing, and music – debated in college as to whether art or modern dance was the right academic path to follow. She ultimately chose art, because, she figured, “My feet wouldn’t last that long!” In 1979, Jane earned her Bachelor of Arts in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Finding inspiration on the road

Throughout their marriage, Jane and her late husband, Pat, were jetsetters. They loved to visit new places, immersing themselves in the culture of each destination. Much of Jane’s art reflects inspiration from a number of her excursions. A tour in China led Jane to create many pieces of handmade, dyed paper and abstract work. In Portugal, she gained new insights in painting and felt especially stirred by what she saw the Portuguese craft with tiles and clay.

Jane was particularly influenced by ancient cave paintings on a trip through South Africa and Botswana. In 1987, the National Geographic photo of umbrella pines in Italy Jane saw some 40 years earlier became a reality when she had an opportunity to see the trees in person. In Italy, she also saw Giacomo Puccini’s birthplace in Lucca, near the Mediterranean, and enjoyed some of his outdoor operas.

An original painting by artist Jane Woodworth
Northern Neck White Shed, oil on board, 17″ x 24″.

Also among the Woodworths’ travels were adventures in Austria, Hungary, the Bahamas, and France. And, ever the student with a hunger for learning more about her craft, Jane studied abroad in Munich, Germany; Tuscany and Siena, Italy; Brugge, Holland; and England.

She cites Italy as the biggest influence in her art, explaining that the walls were exceptionally beautiful. “I spent lots of time taking pictures of the walls. They’re made of a little bit of everything: bricks, stone…a conglomeration.” After studying the Italian walls closely, Jane set to drawing and painting them.

Aluminum artistry

Many of her pieces are painted on aluminum, a surface she began using in the early 1980s. She likely would have attempted this medium long beforehand, but caring for and raising her four children – two daughters and two sons – took precedence. “I kept getting interrupted by babies,” she laughs in reflection.

Jane has established herself as one of the pioneers of aluminum painting. In the living room of her apartment, her piece White Rocks towers over the sofa, accent chairs, and knick-knacks. The 48” x 48” acrylic on aluminum masterpiece was inspired by the captivating white rocks of New Mexico Jane saw on her travels; the piece has a contrasting, identically sized mate, Black Rocks, likewise inspired by black rock formations in the Land of Enchantment.

The two pieces were painted on scrap pieces of insulation sheets; though originally intended for use in home construction, the pieces were headed for the garbage before Jane saved them. Intentional and age-related scratches in each piece’s paint catch the light in a magnificent display; this is something that Jane truly enjoys about the finished product of painting on the metal. Depending on where the viewer stands in relation to the paintings, the silver glints can be subtle or dramatic in appearance.

Jane’s hallway-turned-art-gallery

White Rocks, acrylic on aluminum, 48″ x 48″.

The same can be said of the overall look of any number of Jane’s paintings, and not just those captured on aluminum bases. Jane’s art – expressive, beautifully blended, and thought provoking – adorns both sides of the long hallway leading to her apartment at The Forest.

The first piece in the passage, sure to catch visitors’ eyes from the start, is Lois, a captivating 48” x 40” acrylic portrait of one of Jane’s friends from Fredericksburg, painted in 1979. A “fan favorite,” according to Jane, the portrait captures sunlight filtering through Lois’ hat and all the resulting shadows that fall on her face.

The picture is very large, so to capture such distinct details in so large a piece, Jane explains, “I kept running back and forth” to make sure the paint reflected the exact appearance she envisioned. Lois is meant to be viewed from a distance. However, by inspecting the piece up close, one can see that the details were meticulously and lovingly painted.

Lois, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 40”.

Impacting the art community in Virginia

While living and enjoying her craft as a painter in King George County, Virginia, Jane felt frustration over the lack of connection she felt with other artists in the area. She longed to create a special place that she and other artists could share and where they could exhibit their work for each other and the public.

In February 1992, Jane co-founded Art First Gallery in the heart of Old Town Fredericksburg, Virginia – the town’s first established artists’ cooperative. Though the gallery is now located on a well-traveled road, the original building was on a smaller side street; when the co-op founders first bought it, the building was the shell of an old biker bar.

On one of their first nights working to renovate the building, Jane and her assembled group of 25 artists came armed with supplies. They brought big buckets of any shade close to white paint, mixed them all together, then set to work covering the front wall. The next morning when they returned, the paint had dribbled down the length of the wall, puddling on the floor below. The crew didn’t initially realize that the walls were covered in grease and smoke from years of cooking and needed to be cleaned off before any paint could be applied. After much work on the collective artists’ part, the old bar transformed into a beautiful new art gallery.

Jane dedicated more than two decades of her life to Art First Gallery and served as Chairwoman on its Board of Directors from 1992 until 1997, and again in 2012. Together, she and the other artists in the co-op shared the expenses and responsibilities that went along with operating a gallery, as well as the opportunities to find audiences for their work. The gallery continues to grow and thrive today.

Igniting passion at The Forest

Artist Jane Woodworth poses with one of her original paintings.
Jane stands with some of her contemporary paintings at the Red Door Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, in 2013.

After spending a few months with her daughter in Hillsborough, North Carolina, Jane moved to The Forest in May 2015. Once news of her talent made its way around, another resident soon encouraged her to lead art workshops on campus.

Now well established in The Forest community, Jane and up to six other residents meet weekly in the art studio. There, Jane leads the group in an art workshop. The devoted attendees started off as a drawing class, learning the basics of sketching and shading with charcoal. They eventually moved up to pencil, pastels, and Conté crayons. The group includes one member who has made art her lifelong hobby; the others are happy to learn new techniques.

Next steps

Jane’s next goal is to teach a painting class in the fall and make use of the water based painting materials found in the studio. “I would love to get brushes in their hands!” she says of the residents in her weekly meetup.

Artist Jane Woodworth leads an art class at The Forest at Duke.
Jane, right, leads other residents in her weekly art workshop, “Drawing, Sketching, Color, and Painting with Jane Woodworth.” (Photo by Lauren Young)

Painter and creator Jane Woodworth has made a life for herself out of an intense passion for art that began long ago. But why does she believe art is so important? “It’s a means of communication, knowledge, creativity, history,” she explains. “It’s just basic in our makeup.”

Like the cave painters responsible for the inspiring marks she saw in Africa, Jane recognizes that her artwork’s visual and conceptual value goes well beyond a simple splash of colors and shapes on a blank canvas. “My art is the growth toward the edge of uncertainty.”

Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist

Header image: Byway with Mustard Field, oil on aluminum, 20" x 24".
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